Photo: UNHCR

UN Agencies Transition to Cloud-based Telephony

​UNICC Supports Clients with State-of-the-Art Voice Solutions

Many United Nations Agencies are transitioning from conventional enterprise telephony systems to cloud-based solutions that allow users to make mobile, landline and international phone calls through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connections, with options for modern desk phones and computer ‘soft’ phones, unifying a whole set of communications collaboration tools across the enterprise.

UNICC has been acting as a key enabler for many Partner Organizations who wanted to adopt and modernize their enterprise voice solutions during the challenging times brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gabriel Galati, Head, Digital Workplace Services Unit, UNICC

UNICC has been involved in multiple migrations, implementing customized solutions that take into account each organization’s legacy telephony equipment and infrastructure, current phone carrier, location and local calling plans, organizational cloud strategy, functionality and interoperability requirements as well as current and evolving business needs.

UNICC is currently supporting up to ten UN entities and related organizations in their transitions to cloud telephony, including ADB, ICJ, IFAD, ITC, ITU, OPCW, UN Women, WTO and WFP HQ, with other UNICC Clients in the pipeline.

Our mission is to provide our Clients with the unique experience of making professional phone calls from anywhere at any time. And to do it in a “UN style,” achieving more with less.

Ricardo Pardal, Project Lead, Unified Communications, UNICC

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Microsoft voice system common option for the UN. Credit: Microsoft


The most common options (which can be mixed and matched) include an all-in-the-cloud solution, bringing the organizational phone carrier to the M365 phone system in the cloud or on premises) with different Session Border Controller options to connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN Carrier/Telco):

  • Phone system with Calling Plan (all-in-the-cloud solution)
  • Phone system with organizational phone carrier with Direct Routing
  • Phone system with organizational phone carrier via Skype for Business (/Teams) server
  • Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business (/Teams) server with own carrier.

Most UN Agencies chose the Microsoft Teams Direct Routing option through which they follow a gradual transition, integrating first the organization’s telephony equipment and/or third-party provider to the Microsoft Teams telephony solution in the cloud, moving through different stages of coexistence before eventually disposing the old system and embracing a comprehensive, cloud-based telephony implementation.

One of the key benefits of cloud telephony is that it allows to establish the least-cost route on calls. With voice gateways anywhere in the world, Clients can pay local instead of international fares while calling anywhere, anytime. UNICC has gateways in Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the US, but if the Client requires a new gateway, it can be established in the Microsoft Azure Cloud in just two days.

Moreover, with cloud telephony an organization can unify all its communications and collaboration tools, minimizing the number of applications their users need for calling, video meetings, instant messaging, Business Relationship Management and business processes.

Microsoft Teams is a solid solution, with an engine that has been developed and continually improved for over a decade and a modern front-end. But the UNICC Unified Communications team is also equipped to serve Clients who are interested in alternative solutions, for example Clients who prefer or require retain the functionality provided by on premise systems and a blend of traditional (landline) PSTN and VoIP (voice over IP) telephony options.

For instance, UNICC manages legacy Skype for Business and Cisco telephony systems, both on premise and in the cloud, for several Clients. Additionally, the team has in-house experts on Zoom, Polycom and more telephony and voice vendors, to fulfill each organizations’ business requirements, with interoperability between systems always available.

Microsoft Teams, with its voice solutions and other integrative apps is a versatile and powerful platform that can boost productivity and collaboration as no other application before it.

Mihai Petrescu, Operations Lead, Unified Communications, UNICC

UNICC also offers Calling Plan options with no legacy hardware nor provider. Through Microsoft Teams, the Client can call to phone numbers around the world without requiring any deployment or maintenance of on premise equipment. This is a streamlined and cost-efficient solution for Clients that want to skip the coexistence phase and move directly to fully cloud-based telephony. Cloud-based Calling Plans, however, are not available in all countries, making this a challenge for most UN Agencies.

The continuous commitment of the UNICC Unified Communications group, their technical expertise and their Client intimacy has allowed smooth enterprise voice integrations overcoming many challenges brought by the diversity and legacy of Client’s Unified Communications systems.

Gabriel Galati, Head, Digital Workplace Services Unit, UNICC

UNICC’s knowledge of the United Nations ecosystem means that its Unified Communications team can help each organization to obtain the option with best return on investment, whether that means reusing older networks and infrastructure, leveraging Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams licenses already purchased or adopting a brand new Calling Plan scenario.

Photo: ITU/Farrell

FICSA and UNICC Team Up for a Brighter Future of Work for UN Staff

Sharing expertise in the digital transformation journey

The Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), representing the views of over 40,000 International Civil Servants through their member staff associations/unions, recently signed an agreement with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC).  Sharing expertise and experience in digital transformation journeys, UNICC has been identified as a crucial partner to address FICSA’s work on the digitalisation process, the digital divide and its mandate to ensure staff engagement.

To support building a sustainable framework for the future technology roadmap of the UN system means not only to put staff members at the center of the process, but to make sure that experts are right at the center with us.

Tanya Quinn-Maguire, FICSA President, at the Virtual 74th Annual FICSA Council Plenary where the recommendation for this partnership was adopted.

This exciting partnership allows for more extensive and better-informed staff consultation processes.  The short-term aims and goals of the partnership include:

  • Demystifying issues surrounding enabling technologies among staff members through high-quality education and training as well as expert-led support for staff representatives, so as to empower them to contribute to ongoing discussions on technology and organizational restructuring on behalf of their constituency;
  • Supporting staff members in employing digital tools in sustainable, healthy and proficient ways, in line with the UN Mental Health and Well-being Strategy;
  • Fostering a science-based and human-centered approach to the digital transition within the UN, with FICSA serving as a sounding board for UNICC projects and initiatives;
  • Identifying feasible solutions to address current inequalities in gaining access to and utilising enabling technology, including for those that are disadvantaged due to limited access;
  • Representing FICSA members at high level meetings with well-prepared FICSA positions.

Digitalisation has already begun, and FICSA members need to understand where these developments are heading. FICSA’s long-standing commitment to fact-based staff representation informed the Council’s decision to team up with professionals in digital business and technology at UNICC.

About FICSA

The Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA) was established in 1952. Today, FICSA is a federation of staff associations and unions, which represents close to 40,000 members. FICSA fosters the development of the international civil service in accordance with the principles set forth in the UN Charter and the constitutions of the specialized agencies.

For more information, please reach out to business@unicc.org or ficsa@un.org. For media interviews, contact ficsa@un.org

Photo: UN City Copenhagen

UNFCCC and UNICC Partner to Optimize Digital UN Climate Change Events

Bonn/Geneva 22 March 2021 – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) have announced a partnership to develop and deliver a state-of-the-art digital platform for climate change events. The solution will support pre-COP26 events, COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland (1-12 November 2021) and strategic long-term requirements for UNFCCC.

As the climate emergency continues unabated, the need to facilitate global participation and engagement in the multilateral process on climate change remains as vital and urgent as ever. The constraints the COVID‑19 pandemic is posing on large-scale physical conferences, as well as the need to reduce emissions associated with conferences, make it imperative to implement a high-quality, integrated virtual and hybrid meeting solution in order to maximize participation and engagement.

UNFCCC’s digital platforms will be strategically enhanced and matured to ensure an optimal experience for users. This includes a seamless conference management solution with full security and trust, sophisticated data and analytics insights, premium support and sustained adoption and usability for conference and meeting participants.  The new platforms will be complementary to the physical events of the UNFCCC process.

About UNFCCC

The UNFCCC secretariat (UN Climate Change) is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. UNFCCC stands for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention has near universal membership (197 Parties) and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.

For more information, please reach out to digital@unicc.org.

UNICC Joins UN OICT as a Winner for 2020 Secretary General Awards

UNICC and UN OICT work together to ensure M365 migration stability

UNICC’s Messaging Engineering Group (MEG), a part of the UNICC Digital Workplace Services unit, joins UN OICT as a winner in the category ‘Facilitating delivery in the time of Covid-19’ out of 99 nominees for the 2020 the UN Secretary-General Awards.

The Secretary-General Awards honor and recognize significant performance of UN Secretariat staff members who transcend in their duties or initiate and implement projects with great impact and innovative potential.

Staff members across the global Secretariat nominated almost 200 remarkable projects from 52 Secretariat entities for the 2020 UN Secretary-General Awards. 

The fact that we were nominated and selected as one of six finalists out of 99 nominees in our category was already a great success! 
Lejla Salihagic-Celjo, Messaging Systems Administrator, OPDM, UNICC

UNICC’s Messaging Engineering Group (MEG) provides dedicated messaging and M365 collaboration services to the UN Secretariat – 58 000 users at the UN headquarters in New York, peacekeeping and political field missions around the world and UN offices away from HQ and regional commissions.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated all the winners and highlighted the importance of the OICT-led project with participation from UNICC in enabling the UN to communicate globally through virtual events, a “vital tool to carry forward the mission of the United Nations.”

Microsoft 365 Administration during the Pandemic

Together with other UN Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) teams and as part of the UN Global Support Center (UNGSC), the MEG team participated in project implementation as technical leads and M365 tenant administrators. In recent years the UN has been modernizing ICT systems to enable the organization to efficiently deliver its mandates. The integration of shared drives, Unite Docs standards and Unite Connections allows UN organizations to move to remote work virtually overnight. 

UN OICT’s strategic approach was driven by cost efficiency, security, mobility and enhancing user experience. This accelerated the move to the Microsoft Cloud and global deployment of the Microsoft 365 suite, which includes Teams, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online.

By March 2020, the UN Secretariat workforce was ideally situated to respond to the rising crisis of COVID-19. The UNGSC partnership with OICT strengthened the capacity of its infrastructure, implemented cyber security controls, migrated all core data to the cloud, and issued job aids, guidelines and online training to the global workforce of 58,000 users.

UN OICT’s support was also fundamental in ensuring business continuity to the General Assembly, Security Council, and inter-governmental bodies to function virtually during the COVID-19 emergency. Through these enhanced capabilities the United Nations now has the capacity to communicate and interact with global society in a way that was never possible before. 

UN Secretariat users can now reach stakeholders from UN Agencies, Funds, Programmes, and every Member State, connecting citizens and spreading the UN’s message more effectively. The role of UN OICT in the wake of COVID-19 has been pivotal in globally supporting the UN Secretariat and helping staff in all duty stations to continue to communicate, collaborate, and deliver crucial mandates. The UN OICT continues to empower users in the new normal, bridging silos and creating a safe and inclusive United Workspace for all.

Challenges

The pandemic brought an onslaught of challenges to everyone. The MEG team faced several challenges, especially their working remotely, balancing 100% teleworking with family responsibilities. This impacted internal team communications and work-life balance for each of its members. Equally, it weighed on service and Client support. Geographically, MEG team members are distributed between Valencia and Brindisi; online communication was already one channel of work between the two locations. However, in the wake of COVID-19, team members in each location lost physical presence with other colleagues in the offices.

The teleworking requirement impacted our Clients around the world, which significantly increased the demand for the service that MEG team provides. For example, the use of MS Teams increased 5 times in just the first 3 months of the pandemic and it continues to grow – when the daily work of our 58000+ users depends on MEG services. There are similar trends for all other services that MEG team provides. 

Lejla Salihagic-Celjo, Messaging Systems Administrator, OPDM, UNICC

Solutions

Improved resources allowed the MEG team to address the increase in the scope of service and demand. It also created a smoother transition for new MEG team members who joined the team and enabled them to integrate quickly. It’s no wonder they were selected finalists for the 2020 Secretary General Awards. 

The team-building skills, focus, and energy that each team member brought in their daily meetings made the team stronger and more able to overcome any unforeseen obstacles. Now the MEG team shares the same goals and the same spirit.

Common Secure Conference Follow-up Days
Photo: Unsplash

Common Secure Conference Follow-up Days

The successful Common Secure Conference of November 2020 resulted in a number of action points and areas of interest that led to follow-up sessions held virtually 2 and 3 February 2021, with wide participation from Common Secure Threat Intel Network service subscribers as well as some esteemed United Nations guests.

The first day began with a welcome by Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC, a presentation session from UNDP and two roundtable discussions, including Jorge Flores Callejas, Inspector, UN Joint Inspection Unit  and UNODC as guests.

The second day began with UNICC presentations from Monica Price, UNICC Cyber Security Awareness Consultant and Tom Buelens, Information Security Specialist, ending in a round table discussion focused on “responsible vulnerability disclosure,” with very active participation of attendees from different Agencies (and Common Secure subscribers).

Common Secure subscribers attending included ADB, CTBTO, FAO, IDB, IAEA, ICJ-CIJ, IFAD, ILO, ITU, OECD, OHCHR, PAHO, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICC, UNICEF, UNIDO, UN OIM, UNRWA, WFP, WHO, WIPO and WTO, plus the UN Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) and UNODC.

Agenda

Day One

  • Virtual Common Secure 2020 Conference Follow-up – Presenter Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC
  • Practical Cyber Threat Intelligence: How to Apply the Diamond Model to Detect and Counteract Threat Actors in the Cloud – Presenter: Oleksiy Kuzmenko, Deputy CISO, UNDP
  • Possibilities of State Parties’ Support in the Process of Reaction to Cross-border Cyber Incidents Affecting UN and Related Partners Organizations – Roundtable Discussion with Guest of Honor: Jorge Flores Callejas, Inspector, UN Joint Inspection Unit (JIU)
  • Privacy as a Challenge in a Risk Assessments Process relying on OSINT, including SOCMINT, and CSINT – Roundtable Discussion.

Day Two

  • Security Awareness Services from UNICC – Presenter: Monica Price, Cyber Security Awareness Consultant, UNICC
  • Comparative Analysis of Password Managers – Presenter: Tom Buelens, Information Security Specialist, UNICC
  • Responsible Vulnerability Disclosure – Roundtable Discussion.

Common Secure members found the follow-up conference valuable and a testament to a growing and solid network of collaborators to keep the entire UN family safe.

Photo: AfDB

New User Organizations: AfDB and IDB

​UNICC is pleased to announce that the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are new User Organizations. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for AfDB is Prado Nieto; for IDB it is Elena Sierra.

The African Development Bank (AfDB), with headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, works to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in its regional member countries (RMCs), contributing to poverty reduction. The Bank Group achieves this objective by:

  • Mobilizing and allocating resources for investment in regional member countries (RMCs)
  • Providing policy advice and technical assistance to support development efforts.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), located in Washington, D.C., works to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. Through financial and technical support for countries working to reduce poverty and inequality, we help improve health and education, and advance infrastructure. Its aim is to achieve development in a sustainable, climate-friendly way.

The IDB prioritizes social inclusion and equality; productivity and innovation; and regional economic integration in its development work across Latin America and the Caribbean. In doing so, it addresses the cross-cutting issues of gender equality and diversity; climate change and environmental sustainability; and institutional capacity and the rule of law.

Photo: Break Through Tech

Break Through Tech Students Join UNICC for January Winternship

UNICC is making strides to support its Clients and Partner Organizations in all sectors of digital business transformation. It is helping its stakeholders to deliver on all of the SDGs, but in particular perhaps SDG 5 – Gender Equality, SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals.

UNICC aspires to bring gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness into the digital business field. We know what a challenge it is; we know it requires a massive change of mindsets and habits in corporate culture. Change has to start at home. Inspired by the leadership of the UN Secretary General, we have set ambitious targets for UNICC, and with humility, courage and determination we WILL deliver on them.

Milena Grecuccio, Chief of Staff and OIC, Corporate Services, UNICC

With these goals in mind, UNICC, working with Break Through Tech in New York City, hosted its third, annual gathering of ‘Winterns’ (winter interns) for the month of January 2021. The Communications team welcomed City University of New York (CUNY) students Aaliyah John (John Jay College of Criminal Justice), Adriana Sanmartin (Brooklyn College) and Chloé Zambrano (Hunter College). Break Through Tech (formerly WiTNY) works to expand representation and diversity across all genders and racial backgrounds providing network and internship opportunities. UNICC Winterns also spent part of their time, as part of a UNICC-ITU partnership on gender parity issues, working with the ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations in New York.

During their internship, Aaliyah, Adriana and Chloé were mentored by Denian Ouyang, UNICC Animation Intern, working on two projects. The first project, “It Takes a Team,” consisted of writing articles on UNICC technical teams recognition to be published in Staffnet’s In Focus area. They worked closely with a variety of UNICC teams to learn about delivered services and projects, the certain challenges they faced and overcame, and the results of good teamwork.

Gathering accurate and complete information was a challenge. With the help of our team, we were able to overcome these obstacles by opening channels of communication.

Aaliyah John, Wintern 2021, UNICC

Projects included:

  • Messaging Engineering Group (MEG) as Finalists for the 2020 Secretary General Awards
  • OPD and CPP Complete Successful Migrations for 4 UN Client Agencies in The Wake of COVID-19
  • CPI Identity and Management, SQL, and Windows updated of the Identity Management servers for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
  • Insight on Common Secure Team
  • Accessibility of Shared Mailboxes for Optimized Issue Resolution
  • UNJSPF’s Digital CE (Certification of Entitlement) app.

The second project they worked on, in partnership with ITU, was Girls and Women Talking Tech, an inter-generational interview series. Each intern was paired with a woman from UNICC and another technology thought leader to be interviewed. These conversations were particularly memorable and presented many opportunities for the interns to learn from the shared stories.

A common takeaway from our interviews was not to “let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

Adriana Sanmartin, Wintern 2021, UNICC

Based on her interest in the field of cybersecurity, Aaliyah was paired with Tima Soni, Chief Cybersecurity Section, UNICC and Nicole Pitter Patterson, Co-Founder of Caribbean Girls Hack. Adriana interviewed Lilly Hedges, Head Service Desk, UNICC and Beate Degen, Non-Executive Director, Senior Business Executive. Chloé interviewed Nuria Reques Waterink, Businessn Relationship Manager at UNICC and Meredith Stowell, Vice President IBM Z Ecosystem. These conversations are posted interviews on the Talking Tech YouTube playlist

On the final day of internship, the interns virtually presented to the UNICC and ITU staff members a summary of their two projects and thanked the organization for their provided guidance and support over the month of January.

As a result of this experience we are more excited than ever to pursue a career in tech and we feel well-equipped to take on future endeavours.

Chloé Zambrano, Wntern 2021, UNICC

UNICC hopes to continue this partnership with Break Through Tech as well as City University of New York (CUNY) to promote gender parity in digital business solutions and advocate for the SDGs in all parts of the UN family. Aaliyah, Adriana and Chloé are now three of the 10 interns that this strategic cooperation has brought forth in the past three years. UNICC wishes them great success in their future careers in technology and digital business solutions and hopes to see them, non-virtually, in another UN setting!

Photo: I-DAIR

UNICC New User Organization: I-DAIR

UNICC is pleased to announce that the International Digital Health and Artificial Intelligence Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) has been accepted as a new UNICC User organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for I-DAIR is Philippe Lothsavan.

The International Digital Health & AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) is a global platform to enable inclusive, impactful, and responsible research into digital health and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for health. It is being co-created with a diverse range of stakeholders from the public, private, and academic sectors.

I-DAIR takes inspiration from UNSG’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation on digital enabling of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and targets set by the World Health Organization (WHO) on universal health care. It can be visualised as a ‘distributed CERN for digital health.’

  • Its long-term objective is to democratise the use of data & Artificial Intelligence to solve health problems, and promote diversity, collaboration and inclusiveness in research and development efforts. In pursuing this goal, they seek to:
  • Define and develop global public goods & other enablers for research & development of digital health solutions; an example is our project to develop a Global Research Map.
  • Achieve collaborative, distributed and responsible use of data and Artificial Intelligence whereby data and decisions on AI use stay local and there is no hoarding of digital assets for health;
  • Promote collaboration and inclusiveness in scientific research and technology development through a “hubs and spokes” architecture where researchers across domains and geographies can come together in trusted settings;
  • Build research capacity & related digital health infrastructure in Africa, Asia and Latin America;
  • Solve health and Artificial Intelligence research problems through “pathfinder projects,” which also provide practice-rich feedback for governance of data and AI in health.

I-DAIR was first convened by the Fondation Botnar in September 2019 and is currently hosted at the Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. Since August 2020, I-DAIR has entered its incubation phase with a view to formal launch in 2022.

Photo: Unsplash/Adam Nieścioruk

UNJSPF Goes Live with the Digital Certificate of Entitlement App for its Retirees and Beneficiaries

UNICC is proud to have partnered with the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) to deliver the Digital Certificate of Entitlement app, which allows the Fund’s retirees and beneficiaries the option to complete the annual Certificate of Entitlement exercise by providing their annual proof of life in a biometric format. The DCE is a technology solution provided in partnership with UNICC to automate and make immutable the CE process with blockchain, biometrics and a mobile app. This is a new option the Fund is offering in place of the paper-based Certificate of Entitlement (CE), with it being up to retirees and beneficiaries to decide how they wish to complete their annual CE.

Spearheaded by Dino Cataldo Dell’Accio, CIO, UNJSPF, this is one part of the Fund’s journey towards digital transformation, leveraging innovative technologies to update manual processes and streamline systems efficiencies. The Pension Fund’s Certificate of Entitlement (CE) certifies that retiree beneficiaries are who they say they are, are still living, and still reside at their registered locations. This has always been a cumbersome and manual processes that has been prone to error if not fraud.

After a Proof of Concept prototype, the World Food Programme piloted the solution with their pensioners as a first step to a full rollout, attesting to the incredible cost savings and streamlining of processes with these innovative technology solutions. With the assistance of UNICC, the UNJSPF has taken the solution live as an option for retirees and beneficiaries.

Blockchain, Biometrics and Mobile Apps for Pensioners

UNJSPF provides retirement, death, disability and related benefits for staff upon cessation of their services with the United Nations. Benefits and pensions are based on the cost of living in the local country of residence. On an annual basis, the Fund has to determine that every beneficiary everywhere is still alive (proof of liveness) and that the beneficiary is still living at the address she or he has established.

At the time that a participant initiates separation for the UN Agency, the person creates a digital identity by using a mobile app backed by blockchain technology. The person has to take a picture that is submitted to the Fund for validation and approval, setting the basis for an immutable biometric face recognition identity (see Digital CE FAQs for more details).

Once approved, the participant can request a digital Certificate of Entitlement to use for all UNJSPF business processes. Prior to usage, the participant beneficiary has to prove liveliness by taking a new photo. This entire process is recorded in an immutable blockchain distributed ledger so no changes can be made. If positive, the biometric footprint is updated, avoiding the issue of a beneficiary using a pre-existing static photograph. This ensures that the beneficiary is who he or she says and releases the pension for the beneficiary.

Read more about UNICC’s shared services and projects with Client and Partner Organizations.